HEEDING THE CALL – Sarah Jordan holds up one of the colorful fabric face masks she is making at home today. City, health care and emergency response leaders in Sitka issued a “call to action” today, asking residents to sew face masks to donate to SEARHC, to help prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19.
(Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

AG: School Funding Violates Constitution

By Sentinel Staff
    Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson issued a formal legal opinion today that the fiscal year 2020 education funding in a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Walker last year is unconstitutional.
    Gov. Mike Dunleavy referred to the imminent ruling by the attorney general in a Tuesday Facebook “town meeting,” in which he commented on the absence of education funding in either of the operating budget bills passed by the state House and Senate this year. Those bills are presently in a House-Senate conference committee.
    “Failing to fund education in the budget ignores the constitution,” Dunleavy said in the Tuesday Facebook program, adding that “it creates a situation where education will not be funded after June 30, 2019.”
    In its news release on Clarkson’s education opinion today the Alaska Department of Law said:
    “The Attorney General was asked ‘whether an appropriation of future revenues for K-12 education spending for fiscal year 2020 included in an appropriation bill enacted in 2018 was consistent with the requirements of article IX of the Alaska Constitution.’ The opinion finds that the appropriation violates the constitutional annual budgeting process, the dedicated funds clause, and the Executive Budget Act. This leads to the conclusion: ‘Absent an appropriation for FY20 K-12 education in the budget bills passed this legislative session, the only appropriation for education will be one that is unconstitutional in the view of the Department of Law.’ ”
    The governor’s office said in a news release Wednesday that he “has called on the Legislature to avoid a precedent-setting constitutional standoff by funding education in the FY2020 budget, which he ‘will not veto… in any form or fashion.’”
    Both Houses have chosen to rely on legislation passed in 2018, and signed into law by then-Gov. Bill Walker, which set aside $1.6 billion in state funding for education in FY2020.
    The intent of  the 2018 act was to give advance notice to school districts throughout the state on how much they could expect in the following year’s budget process, because their budgets were usually due for final adoption prior to the Legislature’s action on the budget.
     The state operating budget that Dunleavy submitted to the Legislature in February had a $321 million cut for education, which would have major impacts to local school districts.
    Realizing that it would be difficult to override potential increases that they might add for school funding, the leaders in both the Senate and the House this year chose to rely on the 2018-approved funding for 2020 education funding, which was in line with the prior year’s. The appropriation, under that theory, is not subject to line item vetoes by Dunleavy because only Walker could veto legislation passed when he was governor.
    In his Facebook statement on Tuesday Dunleavy said:
    “Although we initially proposed reductions in education, we have said to legislative leadership ‘put the funding in, make sure there’s funding in the budget and we will not veto that funding in any form or fashion.’ We will let that funding go through, so we can have that conversation going into next year on what reforms we want to look at in education.”
    The Department of Law’s opinion released today follows up on the warning to the same effect that Clarkson issued to the Legislature on April 9.
    Asked for his response to Clarkson’s formal opinion today, Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a member of the majority coalition in the House, said:
    “I categorically reject any notion that the Legislature will surrender its constitutional power of appropriation to the governor, including our discretion to forward fund public education to eliminate the god-awful guessing game school districts have to deal with every budget cycle.”
    Reaction to Clarkson’s legal opinion by other members of the House and Senate leadership was not available by Sentinel press time today.

 
   


   

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 3-31-20)


By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. 

The list includes the total cases (and what portions are travel and non-travel-related or still being investigated):

 Total - 133 (40, 93)

 Anchorage area – 65 (24, 41)

 Homer – 2 (1, 1)

 Kenai – 1 (1, 0)

 Seward – 1 (1, 0)

 Soldotna – 2 (1, 1)

 Sterling – 2 (0, 2)

 Fairbanks area – 35 (7, 28)

 Palmer – 3 (2, 1)

 Juneau – 9 (1, 8)

 Ketchikan – 13 (2, 11)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is nine, and the cumulative number of deaths is three.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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